Some kids may be content to take a few lazy runs with their parents on the weekends, and some kids are more like Megan Edwards.
Edwards, 11, is working on how to stay out of the back seat when she goes off jumps. Doing so, she explains, is very important when participating in skier cross races.
"Instead of standing straight [like you ought to], you lean back, so it's harder to land," says Edwards.
Her mom, Marti Bridges, wants Megan to learn good skiing technique for the sake of safety.
"Being in the backseat is the worst thing you can do, particularly in skier cross. When she broke her collarbone, it was because she was in the backseat," says Bridges, "But she got up and finished the race."
Kids like Edwards catch big air, throw helicopter turns while jumping and generally make everyone else look old. Her style works well for skier cross, sometimes known as skier X, a relatively new form of ski racing. Instead of a single skier on a race course, up to six athletes push out of the starting gates and battle for position while flying down a course of jumps, bumps and banked turns called "Nascar turns," at speeds of 45 to 50 mph.
"If you ever watch motocross, it's the same kind of track, but just put on a hill," said Pat Revallier, the alpine race coach and program director at Tamarack Resort. "Skier cross is a new sport. It was created to be more spectator friendly. There's a lot more thrills. It was another alternative to [downhill] racing."
The racers are not only navigating the course but must remain constantly aware of their competitors and be prepared to overtake them any time during the race.
Six kids from Idaho are heading to the United States Snowboard Association Nationals at Copper Mountain, Colo. Edwards, Zack and Casey Sturtevant, Summer Church, Tim Hiatt and Ben Greenland range in age from 8 to 18 years old. All of them will compete in the skier cross races in Colorado and all of them have potential for much bigger things.
"[Skier cross] is an up-and-coming thing," said Bridges. "It's going be a new Olympic sport in the Vancouver games in 2010. You might see these kids compete in the Olympics."
Summer Church has been skiing since she was 2 years and 10 months old. She wanted to go to the top of the mountain, and when 3 inches of new snow fell the night before closing day, her ski patrolman dad, Chris Church, decided he would take her to the top. She made the other ski patrollers nervous. They told her father they had never seen a 3-year-old at the top of the mountain. But even at 3, Summer was tearing it up. Today, at 10 years old, her accumulated ski booty includes 13 trophies and 40 medals. Summer doesn't mess around when it comes to skiing.
"I'll be racing four girls at a time," said Summer. "If you get enough speed and go off the jump with enough power, you can pass them."
Tamarack Resort hosts the regional national qualifying series. Revallier led the six kids to their victories at regionals and will take them to nationals in Colorado on April 1.
"We teach them the fundamentals of skiing," said Revallier. "Balance, stance, proper technique. Technical things [such as] how you stand and how you react. We do a lot of balance drills like skiing on one ski."
Tim Hiatt, one of the older members of the Tamarack Freestyle Ski Team at 15, prefers to keep his focus on his game.
"You can't ski while you're looking over your shoulder," said Hiatt.
Instead, he looks straight ahead and tries to stay in control. Hiatt made the transition from competitive skiing to freestyle skiing this year and hasn't yet had the experience of wiping out during a race. But he knows how to avoid crashing through body positioning and keeping clear of other skiers. Hiatt and Greenland are the older, more experienced members of the team, while the Sturtevant boys, Edwards and Church are all under 13. Revallier says training younger skiers has different requirements from coaching older athletes.
"You've got to keep them interested," said Revallier. "You can't tell them they're doing it wrong all the time. They have to get rewards out of it."
Going to a national competition is a pretty good reward. But with a thousand kids coming from around the country to compete, their coach is looking at the long term.
"We don't have any expectations. As long as they have fun and they want to go back next year, that's the main thing," said Revallier.
But expectations aren't too low, either. Revallier hopes his team will be in the top 10 percent of the thousand kids who show up.
The speed and competitive nature of this sport would make the average parent's skin crawl. But the parents of these young skiers, and the athletes themselves, repeat the same phrase again and again, like a reassuring mantra.
"You and I are probably at more danger driving through town," said Chris Church, Summer's dad. "If she gets hurt at this sport, it's not going to kill her. She could blow a knee, but [you or I] could get killed going down I-84."
Bridges takes faith in her daughter's natural ability to bend and heal.
"You can only protect them so much," said Bridges. "Kids are resilient. They're not invincible, but they recuperate quickly.
The safety mantra doesn't preclude all fears ski parents have for their kids, however. Most of the kids wear body armor to protect their spines during a race.
"If you're on the lead, you've got five people that could crash into you," said Chris Church. "If you go down, you slide. The biggest chance for injury is if someone runs into you going 55 mph."
Those high-speed crashes are exactly what make skier cross the new sport to watch. Hiatt was a race skier before he started skier cross this year.
"[Skier cross] is such a new venue that people need to recognize it; it needs a fan base," said Hiatt. "It's starting to [get a fan base]. People enjoy watching it; they like seeing all the carnage."
In spite of the potential mayhem, Hiatt believes that skier cross produces some of the best all-around skiers, especially for the kids who are starting so young.
"At that age, racing is very fundamental. [Skier cross] teaches you how to ski," said Hiatt. "What Megan and Summer are doing is building a really strong base to do whatever they want with skiing later. They could be aerial skiers, downhill racers, anything."
As for Hiatt, he's already traveled the downhill racing road and was a Junior Olympian before coming over to skier cross.
"It's a little more low key on the freestyle side of things," said Hiatt. "After a while, [race] training just becomes second nature to you, but it kind of eats up a lot of other stuff."
Other stuff like school. Hiatt is pleased to say that his grades have improved tremendously since becoming a freestyle skier.
"I'm not under the stress of training. It doesn't feel like I'm competing, it just feels like I'm skiing," said Hiatt.
For more information about the Tamarack Program go to TSEF.org.